Borrowing to pay bills; police training bill becomes law

Governor Rauner announces borrowing plan to pay down bill backlog
Governor Rauner announced last week that he intends to exercise borrowing authority to issue $6 billion in bonds to pay down a portion of the state’s bill backlog. The Governor’s action came after a thorough review of the out-of-balance budget passed by the General Assembly in July. I voted No on this budget which raised taxes on Illinois residents without addressing any of state government’s long-term problems.

Making matters worse, a large part of the bill backlog is subject to late-payment interest penalties at annual rates of up to 12 percent. The bond issuance will save the state money through refinancing this high-cost debt by borrowing from banks at a much lower interest rate.

The General Obligation Bond Act grants the state the authority to issue up to $6 billion in general obligation bonds as Income Tax Proceed Bonds. These bonds must be issued before December 31, and must be used to pay for expenses from general funds or state employees’ group health insurance costs that were incurred before July 1.

The state will have 12 years to repay bonds issued under this authority and it is required to make level principal payments each year. So for example, a $6 billion issuance would require 12 annual principal payments of $500 million, plus interest payments depending on the interest rate.

The budget did not account for the increase in debt service costs to cover the bill backlog bond issuance. The governor’s office is identifying several hundred million dollars in possible spending reductions to address this budgetary shortfall. When the legislature returns to Springfield next month we need to work with him to truly balance the budget and put in place some real reforms that could save much more.

Police officer training bill becomes law
Governor Rauner has signed House Bill 305, a bill I sponsored to help police departments hire qualified officers. The idea for this bill was brought to my attention by Chief Jim Wofford of the Pontiac Police Department. It makes a common sense change to the law regarding the qualifications for Illinois police departments to hire prospective officers.

Under the old law, an applicant for a job as a police officer had to have completed a two-year Associate’s degree in order to be eligible. The law did not allow for applicants who had finished at least two years of college in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree to be hired, even though they had completed the same amount of education. This had the potential to shut the door to many qualified applicants. I worked with Chief Wofford and Senator Barickman to get this law changed so that our local police departments can have more flexibility in hiring qualified applicants to keep help keep our communities safe.

I want to thank Chief Wofford for his hard work in helping with this legislation. I appreciate his dedication to public safety, along with all the men and women of law enforcement who do so much for us every single day.

How much do we owe?
As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $15,681,199,932 in unpaid bills to state vendors. This figure represents the amount of bills submitted to the office of the Comptroller and still awaiting payment. It does not include debts that can only be estimated, such as our unfunded pension liability which is estimated to be more than $100 billion.

Oil and gas fracking to get tryout in Illinois
Illinois enacted legislation governing the process of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” in 2013. However, the process of extracting oil from the ground has been slow to get going in the state since then, but that is about to change. The first Illinois-granted drilling permit incorporating fracking technology has been granted to Woolsey Operating Company. The permit, granted on August 31, is tied to a site in White County in southeastern Illinois.

Fracking technology has been delayed in Illinois due to the recent downturn in fossil-fuel energy prices.  Many of the jobs created so far by fracking operations have been in places like North Dakota and Texas, which are traditional energy states.  Geologists say, however, that Southeastern Illinois shale contains a rich treasure of unexploited oil and gas. Woolsey has told the trade press that they plan to drill an exploration well in White County by the end of 2017.

Governor Rauner signs executive order creating task force to fight opioid crisis
Gov. Rauner last week signed an Executive Order creating the governor’s Opioid Overdose Prevention and Intervention Task Force.

The task force will be co-chaired by Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti and Dr. Nirav D. Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. It will look at methods of fighting the opioid crisis, as well as ways to help individuals with opioid-use disorder recover, with the ultimate goal of reducing the number of opioid overdose deaths in Illinois.

Illinois has seen a doubling of the number of heroin overdose deaths since 2013, and a quadrupling of the number of opioid overdose deaths. If this trend continues, the projections for this year suggest that over 1900 people could die of opioid overdoses – nearly twice as many as will lose their lives in motor vehicle crashes. Overall, drug overdose deaths increased by almost 50 percent from 2013 to 2016, and overdose deaths involving opioids were up by 76 percent.

The Task Force will examine ways to increase the use of the Illinois Prescription Monitoring Program; discourage the prescribing of opioids; make it easier for the public to find information and resources; and improve the collection, analysis, and sharing of data about opioid use. The task force is also charged with finding ways to cut the number of overdose deaths among those recently released from an institutional facility; and better train and equip first responders with naloxone to prevent overdose deaths.

The Task Force will consist of officials from the Lieutenant Governor’s office, the Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, Illinois State Police, and representatives of the Illinois Departments of Financial and Professional Regulation, Human Services, Public Health, Juvenile Justice, Insurance, Corrections, and Healthcare and Family Services.

Did You Know?
Florida Governor Rick Scott, who has been in the news in the past couple of weeks due to the recovery from Hurricane Irma, is an Illinois native. Scott was born in Bloomington on December 1, 1952.